• Simply Fresh by Julie Wern–Week 6

    CSA Tip—Write it down

    For years I would bring my bounty home, do any prep work that was required, and then pack everything away wherever I could find space in my fridge. It finally occurred to me last year to make a list of the type and amount of items I brought home and tack it on my fridge for quick reference. This obvious, yet small, step has made a huge difference in my efficiency each week. No longer do I find whole bags of limp scallions at the bottom of my crisper because I forgot they were there. Writing it down has also helped me in developing meals. I simply look at what is left on my list and then challenge myself to figure out how to combine things in a way that maximizes use of the ingredients. The result has been no less than miraculous for me. Try this simple step and see if works for you.

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    Featured Item—Eggplant

    Eggplant is one of those vegetables that take a bit of effort to get behind, but once you have done so, you don’t regret it. When prepared correctly, eggplant is succulent, indulgent, and oh so satisfying. But more than any other vegetable I can think of, it requires the most patience and care. Unlike tomatoes and cucumbers, which are the “good girls” in the family, I think of eggplant as the troublemaker…the one that can drive you crazy and keep you on your toes, but also the one that adds special interest to the party.

    Many varieties and colors of eggplant exist. You can find green, lavender, white and even orange eggplants in many shapes and sizes. Two general types are most familiar in the US, globe (or bell) and Asian eggplants.  Globe/bell, or Italian-style eggplants, are large, oval or round shaped, and typically a dark shade of purple, but can also be light lavender or even white. Asian eggplants tend to be long and thin, and of a lighter color, although darker varieties do exist.

    While the size and shape of the two types of eggplant lend themselves to slightly different preparation methods, their ultimate taste is barely indistinguishable.  Some argue that Asian eggplants are less bitter; however, bitterness tends to be a function of age and skin.  In general, eggplants that are harvested later or kept too long in storage tend to be more bitter.  Some say that the thicker skins of globe eggplants contribute to their increased bitterness over Asian varieties.  However, if they aren’t too big or over-ripe, globe eggplants can be as sweet and succulent as the Asian types.  Many people opt to peel globe eggplants before cooking to avoid bitterness and a tough exterior, although it is simply a matter of preference. I have also read the larger and whiter the eggplant, the tougher the skins, but I haven’t tested this out yet for myself.

    Eggplant offers many healthful nutrients and benefits. Its’ antioxidant properties promote cardiovascular health and may even help prevent cancer. Eggplants are high in fiber, copper and Vitamin B1. They also contain decent amounts of vitamins K and B6, as well as Folate, potassium, and manganese. They are naturally low in cholesterol and fat, but do contain significant amounts of sodium, which should be kept in mind when adding additional salt.

    When prepared correctly, eggplant is a divine food, with a silky soft flesh and rich taste.  It is prized in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking, where it stars in dishes like Greek Moussaka, Middle Eastern Baba Ganouj, Italian Caponata, and French Ratatouille.  It pairs great with many types of meat and other seasonal vegetables, especially tomatoes and zucchini.

    Eggplant needs to be cooked fully in order to achieve its signature creamy texture and rich flavor.  Undercooked eggplant is rubbery and unappetizing.  Eggplant can be steamed, roasted, baked, sautéed, and grilled.  However, I have found that on the grill or in a sauté pan it can tend to dry out before it gets sufficiently soft (such a troublemaker!).  This is often avoided by a) adding water or another liquid to the pan, b) by lowering the temperature, c) by covering it during and after cooking to allow steam to re-moisturize it, and/or d) by “sweating it”.

    Eggplant’s spongy texture causes it to soak up most of the oil or fat in a dish, which often leads to too much calorie-laden oil being added and absorbed.  This is why recipes often direct you to “sweat” the eggplant first by salting it.  The salting apparently makes the eggplant less absorbent and spongy.  Some say it also removes bitter flavors.  Sweating is generally not necessary for smaller, Asian eggplants, but is often recommended for globe eggplant.

    To “sweat” eggplant, slice or cut it into desired shapes.  Place in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Toss to distribute evenly.  Allow to sit for 1 hour.   Dry with paper towels.  Proceed with preferred cooking method.

    Choose firm eggplants without marred or bruised skin or soft spots.  Stems should be nice a green.  The ideal temperature for eggplant storage is 50 degrees, as colder temperatures tend to increase spoilage and bitterness.  This requirement is a challenge for us here in the northeast as most cellars are hotter than this in the summer.  You can leave an eggplant out on the counter for a few days, but if you need to store it longer than that, refrigerate it.  Store unwashed eggplants in plastic or a kitchen towel in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator.  Make sure the eggplant has plenty of space so that it doesn’t get bruised by other items, which can cause the eggplants to spoil and develop a bitter taste.  Eggplants should keep at least a week in the refrigerator, but they may get more bitter the longer they sit.

    Cooked eggplant freezes very well, as do pre or partially cooked eggplant casseroles (like Eggplant Parmesan).  According to Janet Chadwick in The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Food at Home, blanched eggplant can be frozen as well.  Add lemon juice to the water (1/4 cup per ½ gallon) to prevent discoloration and blanch for four minutes.  Drain, pat dry and freeze.

    I am always looking for new and interesting ways to use eggplant, especially when the tomatoes are not yet in season. Here are some ideas that I have come across recently in cooking magazines and the Internet:

    Vegetarian Spiced Eggplant with Bulgur Salad (click here)

    Eggplant and Porcini “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce (click here)

    Grilled Eggplant Rolls with Feta and Olives (click here)

    Southeast Asian Grilled Eggplant Salad (click here)

    Open faced Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches with Olive-Walnut Relish (click here)

    Stuffed Eggplants with Lamb and Pine Nuts (click here)

    Eggplant Noodles (click here)

    Grilled Eggplant Banh Mi Sandwich with Cucumbers (click here)

    Coal Roasted Eggplants (click here)

    Marinated Eggplant with Green Chermoula (click here)

    Raw Eggplant Bacon (click here)

    Vegan Eggplant Meatballs (click here)

     

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    I love skillet dinners. They are quick, versatile and great for busy weeknight meals. My family especially loves a curry skillet dish, served over black rice. I thought I would write up a general how-to for a curry skillet dish followed by a rendition I did this past week to use up the eggplant, onion, zucchini and frying peppers from the farm.

    Note that this recipe can be made vegetarian by substituting extra veggies for the meat. Simply skip the first part of the recipe and use a little bit of fat when sautéing the onions and other hard vegetables.

    Skillet Curry (Master Recipe)

    1 l/b ground meat (turkey, chicken, pork or beef)

    1 T grated ginger

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    1 medium onion, chopped

    1 T Curry powder

    ½ t Tumeric powder

    1 t salt (use less if using salted broth)

    1 ½ cups unsalted broth of choice (vegetable, beef, or chicken)

    ¼ cup light or whole fat coconut milk

    Chopped veggies of choice

    1 T freshly grated lime juice

    1 T minced basil

    ¼ cup cashews

    METHOD

    In a large skillet, brown meat over medium heat until cooked through. Drain off most of fat in pan and return pan to heat. Add onion and any hard vegetables (carrots, turnips, celery etc), as well as the ginger, garlic, curry powder and turmeric. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, 8-10 minutes. Add broth, salt, coconut milk and remaining vegetables (squash, green beans, eggplant etc.) and stir well.   Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Uncover and cook at a rapid boil until sauce thickens, about 10-20 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice, basil and cashews.

    Bison, Eggplant, Zucchini and Frying Pepper Skillet Curry           Serves 4

    2 good size Japanese eggplant or 1 large globe eggplant

    1 medium/large zucchini

    1-2 frying peppers, or as desired

    Follow recipe above using one pound ground bison and beef broth. Saute frying peppers with onion and follow the rest of the recipe as written above.

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    The potatoes are here!! Just in time to tango with the eggplant!

    This recipe is an adaptation from a quick recipe blurb by Kay Chung that I saw in Food and Wine magazine a couple of years ago. It combines succulent eggplant with tender potatoes in a warm caramelized salad that is highly addictive. I altered it from my original rendition to bring in shishito peppers and basil since we are receiving them in this weeks share.  Beware; this might become your all-time favorite recipe!

    Note that I use a 13-inch non-toxic, non stick pan for this recipe.  If you don’t have a skillet that large you may want to halve the recipe (you want the vegetables to sit in a single layer in the pan so that they get nice and browned).  If you don’t have non-toxic non-stick pans, use a regular pan with at least another tablespoon of oil to prevent sticking.

    Warm Potato, Eggplant and Shishito Pepper Salad with Mustard and Basil       Serves 4IMG_0936

    INGREDIENTS:

    – 4 ounces pancetta, diced

    – 2 tablespoons light olive oil

    – 5 medium red potatoes, (or 1 quart small potatoes) cut into 1/2″ dice

    – 1 med/large unpeeled globe eggplant (or two small Japanese eggplants), cut into 1″ dice

    -5 to 10 Shishito peppers, tops cut off, chopped crosswise into quarters

    – 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

    – freshly ground black pepper

    – 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

    – 1 tablespoon Whole grain mustard

    – 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (plus more to taste)

    – 1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil

    METHOD:

    1. Heat a large (13”) skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp. Using a slotted spoon remove pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve pancetta grease in pan and return to heat. Add 2 tablespoon light olive oil. Once oil is hot, add potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Turn vegetables and cook another 5 minutes to brown the bottom. Turn potatoes again, and then every 3-4 minutes to ensure even browning. Continue to cook and stir until vegetables are well browned and tender, about 15-20 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk mustards and vinegar.
    3. Remove vegetables from the heat. Quickly stir in mustard mixture, basil, and reserved pancetta until vegetables are evenly coated. Taste for salt, pepper, and vinegar  level and add as needed. Serve immediately.

    Julie Wern is a health coach, food writer, and caterer who is passionate about health, food, and vital living.  For direct comments or inquiries please use this contact form to send a message to Julie:

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